On Hacking's 'Style(s) of Thinking'



Keynote Speaker: Professor Ian Hacking


This workshop, which coincides with Professor Hacking’s 75th birthday, aims to explorethe philosophical significance of his suggestion that there are distinct Styles of Thinking in the sciences.

Conference Programme 

Conference Abstracts 

Attending the workshop

In addition to those presenting a paper, there are a limited number of spaces available for those wishing to participate in the workshop. The workshop fee (including refreshments, light lunches and the workshop dinner) is R 300.00. We especially want to encourage postgraduate students to attend the workshop, and we have secured funding which will allow us to waive the workshop fee for a limited number of postgraduate attendees. This will be done on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis. Should you wish to occupy one such place, please email the conference organisers no later than 15th of March 2011.

Conference fee payments should be made to:

Account holder: University of Cape Town

Name of bank: Standard Bank of SA Ltd

Branch: Rondebosch

Branch code: 02 50 09 11

Account number: 071 503 854

Once payment is made please email a copy of your deposit slip to: Cindy Gilbert. 


Theme 1: Styles of Thinking

A Style of Thinking is in part constituted by specific methods of reasoning, new kinds of sentences and specific objects of study, where methods, sentences and objects are all intimately interrelated.  By a method of reasoning, we mean a distinctive way of finding things out that is grounded in cognitive human capacities, has emerged at distinct moments in human history and has evolved in stable and historically traceable ways. By new kinds of sentences, we mean new candidates for being true-or-false which come into being with the new style of thinking. By an object of study, we mean a distinct class of objects of study introduced by that method of reasoning. One example of a style of reasoning in this sense is that of a taxonomic style of thinking: the methods of reasoninginvolve the ordering of difference and variation in terms of some form of hierarchic structure, the new sentences are those involving claims about such species and genera and their connections and the objects of study include the species and genera of systematic biology.

The suggestion that there are distinct styles of thinking raises a number of issues of potential philosophical interest, which can be grouped into three different categories. 

  1. The first category aims at clarifying the terms of the suggestion itself. Questions include: How should we distinguish one style of thinking from another? How does the notion of a style differ (if at all) from similar ideas, such as the Kuhnian disciplinary matrix or Lakatosian research programme? What is the best way of characterising the interrelation between method, new sorts of sentences and objects of study?

  2. The second category focuses on (purportedly) extant styles of reasoning. Questions include: How many extant styles of thinking can be identified? What possible interrelations can there be between these extant styles? Can the notion of styles of thinking be extended beyond styles of scientific thinking? If so, what examples are there?

  3. The third category explores the possible philosophical ramifications of these claims. Questions include: Does the notion of a style of reasoning change or undermine the way we think of traditional ontological disputes in the philosophy of science, concerning species, unobservables, and other objects which appear to be products of these styles? Does talk of historically-contingent styles of thinking inevitably lead to a form of relativism? Are there forms of thinking that do not fall under a style or that are not historically contingent?

Theme 2: Hacking’s Style of Thinking

A common thread running through the many varied areas that Hacking has explored is the explicit focus on the historical conditions surrounding the emergence and development of a target concept. He is clear that this attention to historical detail is not an exercise in history per se, but a way of grappling with philosophical problems by understanding how they became possible, as a ‘historicised conception of British 1930s philosophical analysis’.

Obvious questions abound, including:

  1. In terms of methodology, how does this approach differ from related approaches – such as those falling under the heading of Genealogies? How central is the role played by actual history, as opposed to imaginary narratives for example, in such a methodology? What criteria are there for assessing the success of such narratives, and do these differ from the criteria used to judge good history? How does this differ from so-called ‘Whig-histories’, and what precisely is wrong with the latter?  
  2. In terms of philosophical import, how may an understanding of the history of a concept serve to resolve philosophical disputes and can such a resolution ever serve to favour one side? Must attention to historicity reveal the contingency and indeterminateness of conceptual norms? Is philosophical theorising that fails to pay attention to history problematic, or is this just one approach to philosophy amongst many?


Workshop Organizers:

Jack Ritchie & Jeremy Wanderer